It was about 8 months ago that I wrote my Trombone post. As I hinted in that article, the reason why I went behind tracking the Trombone songs in Raaja's music was that, some one was preparing the background for an interview with the leading Trombone player of India, Mr. Blasco Monsorate and I was asked if I can help.

The interviewer was one Mr. Shankar Iyer, one of the editors of a music e-zine named Swar-Aalap based out of Mumbai and now a good friend of mine. Recently Shankar concluded his interview with Blasco. When he shared his memorable moments of Blasco with me, I was equally excited too. During the interview, Shankar showed this blog to him. It seems that Blasco was really thrilled and appreciable of those Trombone tracks in the post. He actually played them for Maestro some 20-25 years ago. Particularly When Blasco heard the Prelude of Sangeedha Megam, he was delirious it seems. Because as musicians they are too concerned about just playing their part and never got a chance to listen to the final output again. So after 23 years, he got to listen to his solo piece in all its glory for the first time in this blog.

Similarly another casual writeup that I made once on the Ilaiyaraaja Yahoo group about the song "Radha Azhaikkiraal" and particularly of its usage of bass guitar caught the attention of Maestro's great guitarist Mr.Sadanandan and he was kind enough to send a word of appreciation through Eddie, another good friend of mine. When the people whose work you write about, acknowledge it themselves, its personally a very cherish-able and rewarding moment :-)

Mr. Shankar's interview to Blasco is not to be missed by anyone who loves Indian Film Music. Unlike asking mundane and formal questions for the sake of asking them, he really came up with some innovative and good questions, which in turn brought the life behind the curtains of recording theaters to us. Blasco uniquely explains the genius of both Raaja and RD Burman. On RD Burman, he talks about the richness of his orchestration, What a visionary he was, How his music was a team work..

While on Ilaiyaraaja he explains, How his work is much complex than any other type of film music in India.. How he is the sole proprietor of everything what we hear.. Honest about the anxiety of musicians that playing for him is no easy task... First hand account on the legend of his notation writing skills.. And some esoteric references to Raaja's other musicians, his brass players et al. Its great to get reaffirmation on the unique and genial working style of Maestro from someone who worked his side by side for 8 years.

With the author's permission, I am presenting you the maestro specific portions of that interview below.

With Love

The Interview:

Shankar: How did you get to play in the South? Why did you leave Bombay to play in Madras?
Blasco M.: Kersiji itook me to Illaiyaraja’s recording studio while we were in Madras for the background recording of the movie Mahaan. When we met Illaiyaraja, he put up his reel of a background score and asked me play a Trombone piece. Since I had not carried my Trombone along, he asked me to come again on the following Sunday. He wanted me for a recording on a Sunday, while I was in a shopping mood since it was an off-day.

We returned to Bombay; but the Madras visit was playing on my minds. One fine day (in March 1983), I took my Horn and left for Madras to meet Illaiyaraja. That was when I met popular singer S P Balasubramaniam (SPB) there; he asked me to come for the background music recording of a Telugu movie the very next day. He was very thrilled when he heard my style of playing. “Your style is something different”. He wanted me to meet Illaiyaraja and was keen that I stayed in Madras for a longer time! And 4 days later I got to play for Illaiyaraja!

Shankar: How long did you play for Illaiyaraja?
Blasco M.: I played for Illaiyaraja from 1983 to 1991.

Shankar: How did Illaiyaraja use the Trombone in his music?
Blasco M.: Illaiyaraja’s music, in general, was different compared to Hindi film music. It had lots of syncopation stuff. The Trombone pieces he gave me were difficult to play; they were mostly played off-beat (demonstrates an off-beat playing style). In Bombay, Trumpets were played off-beat and Trombone played on the beat. However, Illaiyaraja’s Trombone was always on the off-beat. I had to be on my guard always while playing for Illaiyaraja. It was a challenge for me as a Trombone player to play for him. That difficult music I don’t think happened in Bombay. And nowadays, there is nobody to write like those days. They just ask us to pick up the notes and play them. Illaiyaraja was very fond of my style of playing. He used to lovingly call me “Blas”!

Shankar: Please explain why Trombone playing in the South was different to its playing in Hindi films?
Blasco M.: South music directors preferred the solo Trombone sound to a group of Trombones. I mostly played as a soloist in the South, whereas I was always part of a brass section in Hindi films. In the south, even if there was a section of Trumpet players, the Trombone was almost always used as a solo instrument. Illaiyaraja used to call 5 Trumpet players on the set, but only one Trombone player!

Shankar: Which other South Indian composers have you played the Trombone for?
Blasco M.: Besides Illaiyaraja, MS Viswanathan, Shankar-Ganesh, Hamsalekha, Deva, Raghavelu, Johnson, Shyam and Ravindran are some other south composers I played for.

Shankar: How about AR Rahman?
Blasco M.: I have done concerts and shows with AR Rahman. I have also played in some jingles for him. As you may know, he played the keyboard with Raja and Telugu composer Rajkoti for a long time. I also played the Trombone in the famous Asha Bhosle song “Vennila Vennila” from the Mani Ratnam movie Iruvar.

Shankar: What do you think were the reasons for your success in the South?
Blasco M.: I would say most of the composers liked my style of blowing. My style of listening first to the composer to understand what phrase he wanted also possibly helped. Also I think my playing blended well with the overall brass section used in songs.

Shankar: Do you remember any of the hit Tamil movie scores that you played in?
Blasco M.: I can’t recollect the names. Some of the names like Nayakan, Appu Raja and background music in a movie called Vellai Roja have stayed in mind.

Shankar: What was Illaiyaraja’s style of composing while creating background music?
Blasco M.: It was no different to the song recordings. It was all just notations. He always wrote the score, the musicians had to read the notations and play. He used to hand over notations to me, which I used to transpose for the Trombone. All his musicians played music based on the notations given. Once Illaiyaraja okayed, all was final. The responsibility was with the musicians’ to play with feeling and passion.

Shankar: Having worked with RD Burman and Illaiyaraja the most, what have you to say about their composing styles?
Blasco M.: RD Burman’s team of musicians always sat together to produce music. On the other hand, Illaiyaraja composed his music keeping the musicians in mind. We as musicians never knew what was in his mind. With Panchamda we had an idea of what was coming. He used to suggest things like “Put one chord here; add this piece here“. There was a sense of excitement for the musicians as there was always some discovery happening. With Illaiyaraja, it was the opposite. He used to sit thinking for the music piece and after a few minutes would get down to writing the notations. He was sure of what he always wanted. He then sat with the musicians for their part and checked if he was happy with it. In about 30-45 minutes, the entire song was finished. When he went back to the monitor room for the final recording, the entire score was in his brain! Many a time, he even challenged musicians on the sequence of playing of their own notes. And not once did he end up on the wrong side. It was a one-man show, literally!

Panchamda had two different types of arrangers for him; Manoharida and Basuda. Manoharida was strong with Western music; Basuda was strong with classical music. It was a combination of the heavy and light musical pieces. This served as a good mix for Panchamda’s songs. With Illaiyaraja, it was all a solo effort. Nobody could tell him to change the style of playing. What was given to the musicians was final.

With regards to the overall styles, they showed 2 different schools of instrument playing. Panchamda was more rhythmic, even his brass section was full of rhythm. The demarcation was clear with a full spread-out harmony. Panchamda also gave a lot of focus to the Strings section. With Illaiyaraja, it was more technical stuff, more hard music. You had to be a good musician to play for Illaiyaraja. It was tough to play for his music. He wanted exactly what he wrote. With Panchamda it was working together, adjusting to everybody’s capabilities and requirements. For Illaiyaraja, what was put on the score sheet had to have no deviation. Musicians had tough times with him. But he definitely had a soft corner for me. It may also be since I was from Bombay or even maybe because I was RD Burman’s Trombone player!

Shankar: What did Illaiyaraja have to say about RD Burman?
Blasco M.: Of course, he liked Panchamda. On seeing the big Orchestra section, he used to jokingly say “Big people, big orchestra”. He used to also like Manoharida's Saxophone playing.

Shankar: Which musicians from Raja’s team have you been closely associated with?
Blasco M.: All from the Violin, Cello and rhythm section. There was Shashi the bass Guitarist, Purushottaman the Drummer, Viji Manuel the Piano player, Narasimhan the Violinist, and Sada the lead Guitarist. And don’t forget Raja himself played the Guitar.

Illaiyaraja’s trumpet player Eugene Lazarus, from Chennai, was a good friend of mine. We worked a lot together. He passed away a year ago. Another good friend was Frank Dubia, Trumpet soloist for Illaiyaraja.

Shankar: Can you tell us something about Illaiyaraja’s music assistants?
Blasco M.: Mr. Govardhan and later Mr. L Vaidyanathan were Illaiyaraja’s conductors. Then came in Judy; even Ram Subu his Viola player conducted some times. One day his drummer Purushottaman conducted; I think he has hence been Illaiyaraja’s conductor till this day.

Shankar: Noted Mumbai musician Uttam Singh also conducted for Illaiyaraja? How did that happen?
Blasco M.: Once when Mr. Govardhan, Illaiyaraja’s conductor, was unwell, I had suggested Uttam Singh’s name. I used to like Uttam Singh’s style of conducting. Slowly, Uttam Singh started to work with Illaiyaraja, becoming a regular with him later.

Source: To read the complete interview of Blasco in the Swar Aalap magazine, click here.

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